Raptured: Part 1 – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18

For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (1 Thessalonians 4:14-17, NIV).

Around 50 AD the Apostle Paul and Barnabas left Antioch and returned to the towns in Galatia and Pisidia where they had visited on their previous journey (Paul’s second missionary journey is described in Acts 16-18). They had an argument about whether to take John Mark with them again, and agreed to disagree and each went their separate way. Barnabas decided to re-visit the Jewish believers in Cyprus while Paul re-visited the Gentile believers in Galatia.

Paul and his missionary team of Silas and Timothy traveled through the Roman provinces of Galatia and Phrygia but the Holy Spirit prevented them from preaching in the Roman province of Asia. One night Paul dreamed a man from Macedonia (in modern-day Greece) was begging him to come and help the people of Macedonia.

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey

Paul’s team sailed across the Aegean Sea and began their journey through Greece. When they reached the city of Thessalonica, Paul and Silas preached in the Jewish synagogue on three consecutive Sabbaths. But some of the Jews became jealous and incited some bad characters to form a mob and cause a riot. Paul and Silas were forced to escape from Thessalonica under the cover of night.

Paul moved on to Athens and then Corinth where he remained for about a year and a half. While at Corinth and possibly due to his abbreviated visit to Thessalonica, Paul wrote two letters to the church at Thessalonica. In the first letter he explained and clarified some of the theological positions of the gospel he had preached during his short stay in Thessalonica. Specifically, in these verses Paul addressed the state of the Christian dead.

Perhaps, the Thessalonian Christians were so convinced of the imminent return of Christ that they became concerned about the eternal outcome of their loved ones who died before Christ returned. So, in verses 14-17 Paul explains the logistics of the second coming of Christ for those Christians who have died and for those who are alive on the earth–what many Christians call the Rapture:

  1. Those who are alive when Christ returns shall not precede those who are dead.
  2. The dead in Christ will resurrect first.
  3. As Christ descends to the earth the living and the “resurrected dead” will be caught up together to meet Christ in the air.
  4. This meeting of Christ in the air is the beginning of the eternal destiny of believers.

Paul’s explanation is meant as a reassurance to the Thessalonians (and to us) that the dead in Christ are not forgotten by God when they die. In fact, according to Paul those who have already died in Christ appear to have first priority because “the dead in Christ will rise first…after that, we who are still alive.”

As Christ descends to the the earth the believers who are still alive on the earth at that time will be “caught up” or raptured to meet Christ up in the air. (The term “rapture” is taken from the Latin rapio for the two words “caught up” used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17.)

There are differing views of when the Rapture occurs–pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, post-tribulation, pre-millenial, post-millenial. Regardless of these differing views, whether we be alive or dead when Christ returns, all Christians are going to be raptured. All Christians, dead or alive, are going to meet Christ in the air when He returns and then they will forever be in His presence.

In verse 18 Paul tells the Thessalonians to encourage one another with these words. The anticipation of Christ’s imminent return and the rapture of all Christians should surely stir up within us a hopefulness and sense of destiny that inspires us to live godly lives in this present world.

And to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. (Titus 2:12-13, NIV)

Living Up – Philippians 3:12-21

“Only let us live up to what we have already attained. Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do” (Philippians 3:16-17, NIV).

In the 3rd chapter of his letter to the Philippians the Apostle Paul delineates two conflicting lifestyles. One lifestyle is characterized by having confidence in oneself and the material things of this world. Let’s call this living down.

The other lifestyle is characterized by faith in Christ and believing in His resurrection power. This lifestyle is characterized by living one’s life on this earth in preparation for the world to come. Let’s call this living up.

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Jesus Prayed for You – John 17:20-26

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21, NIV).

Did you know that when Jesus walked the earth 2,000 years ago that He prayed for you?

Yes, Jesus actually prayed for you….

At the end of a lengthy “Last Supper” after-dinner discussion in John 13-17, Jesus prayed for His disciples and then He prayed for those in the future who will believe the message of His disciples.

His prayer was for every Christian that has ever lived or ever will live.

So, that’s you and me….

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Shameless Audacity – Luke 11:1-13

“I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need” (Luke 11:8, NIV).

In Luke 11:1-13 Jesus taught His disciples a lesson on how to pray. Verses 2-4 are the Luke version of The Lord’s Prayer.

The lesson begins when Jesus returned from praying and one of His disciples asked Him to teach them to pray. Jesus responded to the disciple’s request not with a set of instructions on how to pray or guidelines for showing proper devotion or gratitude to God.

Instead, Jesus replied with a curious story about approaching a neighbor in the middle of the night to ask for some food to feed an unexpected house guest.

Jesus certainly didn’t ignore devotion and gratitude as a function of prayer. In fact, He said you start prayer by acknowledging God the Father is the Provider of all that we ask and recognizing He is the Forgiver of all our sins (vs. 2-4).

But, the key ingredient of prayer in Jesus’ story is found in the the enigmatic behavior of the person making the plea for food to serve to the visitor.

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Leftovers – Matthew 16:1-12

“Don’t you remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many basketfuls you gathered? How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread?'” (Matthew 16:9-11, NIV).

When I was a kid my dad was a school teacher and since school teachers didn’t make very much money, my mom also worked to supplement our family income.

In the summer when school wasn’t in session my dad was a stay-at-home parent and it fell to him to fix lunch each day. He would always gather the leftovers from various, unrelated meals and warm them up for our lunch. Oh, how I loathed leftovers!

Perhaps the disciples felt the same way about leftovers in this story from Matthew 16 when they forgot to take food with them on their boat trip across the Sea of Galilee.

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What’s Really Important – Matthew 6:19-21

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21, NIV).

In this one concise statement Jesus reveals a fundamental attribute of human behavior: People do what’s important to them!

In other words, your priorities dictate your behavior.

Your life in this world is not so much a matter of what you get out of it as what you put into it.

All of us have plans for the future and goals we want to achieve in life. These could be plans for success in your career, a six or seven figure salary, a new home or maybe an exotic vacation.

Whatever the plans or goals are, we strive for those things that are important to us. And, Jesus makes it clear in this pronouncement that the things that we personally value are the things that control our lives.

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Faith And …. Philippians 3

“Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord. To write to you again about this is no trouble for me and is a protection for you. Watch out for ‘dogs,’ watch out for evil workers, watch out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, the ones who serve by the Spirit of God, boast in Christ Jesus, and do not put confidence in the flesh” (Philippians 3:1-3, HCSB).

Most Christians today are probably more concerned about learning correct doctrine than they are about avoiding incorrect doctrine. And, as a result incorrect doctrine can sometimes weave its way into our theological understanding if we don’t beware of incorrect teaching about our salvation in Jesus Christ.

Avoiding false doctrine and its dubious teachers was a big deal to the Apostle Paul. So much so that he used some pretty strong language to call out these teachers of false doctrine.

Specifically, the teaching Paul was castigating in these verses was legalism–salvation that is rules-based and works-oriented. These deceitful teachers told the Philippians that as Gentiles they not only needed to accept Christ as Savior but they also needed to be circumcised and obey the law of Moses in order to be saved.

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Hard Work – Colossians 3:18-25

“Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Colossians 3:24-25, NIV).

In these verses from Colossians the Apostle Paul counsels people who are slaves and Christians.

Slavery in the ancient Roman Empire was a common practice and there was a vast population of Roman slaves. Slaves were most often prisoners of war but could also be the families of desperate Roman citizens facing hard times. Slaves were so commonplace in Roman society that in addition to being household servants and laborers, they could hold professional positions such as teachers or public servants.

Because of the preponderance of slavery in ancient Roman society, it’s only reasonable that when Paul addresses the subject of relationships in Christian families that he would also include the relationship between slaves and their masters.

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Inexorable Goodness

Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:16, NIV).

GOD IS GOOD!

It’s a mantra that Christians often proclaim.

But, what do we mean when we say God is good? By good do we mean kind? Like God is a nice guy? Or by good do we mean virtuous? That God has no character flaws? Or maybe by good we mean mighty like God is the most powerful?

The first place the goodness of God is mentioned in the Bible is, consequently, at the first of the Bible. The goodness of God is first declared in the creation story, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31, NIV).

God’s creation was not just good, it was very good! So, it only stands to reason that if God’s creation was good–very good–then God must be good because only good can create good.

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Untold Tenets: Maintaining the Status Quo – Luke 8:26-38

“When they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone out, sitting at Jesus’ feet, dressed and in his right mind; and they were afraid. Those who had seen it told the people how the demon-possessed man had been cured. Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them, because they were overcome with fear. So he got into the boat and left” (Luke 8:35-37, NIV)

This series of devotions, Untold Tenets, captures its lessons from lesser-known and sometimes overlooked scriptures that are embedded within or immediately following a well-known bible story or biblical text.

In this well-known and powerful story of demonic possession and exorcism, Jesus purposely went to a Gentile region and ministered there. As He got out of the boat after crossing the Sea of Galilee, a man possessed by many demons ran up to Jesus screaming and begging Jesus not to torture them or send them to the underworld prison of evil spirits.

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